RICO Lawsuits and
The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) is a federal law designed to combat organized crime by allowing prosecution and civil penalties for racketeering activity associated with an ongoing criminal enterprise.
When passed in 1970, it was intended to go after the mafia and major crime syndicates. Although it has been principally used in drug cases, it has morphed into a much broader legal universe having been used against everything from the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal to Donald Trump’s University.
Its threat to MJ legalization laws is that RICO allows a private citizen to sue “marijuana racketeers” for damage to business or property due to their illegal activities even if they were not directly engaged in its production or distribution. Any kind of marijuana commerce is considered racketeering as it is illegal under federal law.
If victorious, those filing RICO suits are award treble damages meaning three times the amount of the actual damages that were caused by the illegal acts. RICO lawsuits are the wet-fantasies of ambulance chasing lawyers.
A decision issued on June 7 by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Colorado has opened not just a path but an inter-state highway for these lawyers to file against marijuana producers, distributors and anyone even tangentially associated with them.
The lawsuit upheld by the 10th Circuit Court involved a couple in Colorado that alleged marijuana being cultivated in a property adjoining their property reduced the value of their property because of the noxious odors and other activities associated with the cultivation operation. The lawsuit was originally dismissed by the trial court as the alleged harm was “speculative” and that no evidence proved that they had been harmed.
Reversing the District Court’s decision, a 3-judge panel of the 10th Circuit Court ruled that just simply alleging that their property had been damaged by the operation of the federally illegal marijuana cultivation facility was enough for the Colorado couple to comply with RICO. The case was remanded back to the District Court for further consideration.
What was not expected, and kind of showed the inherent bias of the 3-judge panel, was the panels’ explanation why the lawsuit complied with RICO.
- Defendants were racketeers as they were growing marijuana which is illegal under federal law.
- The defendants met RICO’s definition of an “association-in-fact enterprise.” This is extremely easy to do as an “association-in-fact enterprise” may be a group of individuals, a group of corporations and a group that includes both individuals and legal entities - essentially any group of more than one.
- Defendants were running the illegal cultivation
- The activity of the defendants created a “pattern of illegal acts” that were the direct cause of the Colorado couple’s claimed damages.
Such a simple step-by-step procedure provides lawyers a virtual roadmap on how to go after just about anyone conducting a marijuana business.
Trying to explain away such a broad ruling, the 3 judge panel wrote:
“We are not suggesting that every private citizen purportedly aggrieved by another person, a group, or an enterprise that is manufacturing, distributing, selling, or using marijuana may pursue a claim under RICO. Nor are we implying that every person tangentially injured in his business or property by such activities has a viable RICO claim. Rather, we hold only that the Reillys alleged sufficient facts to plausibly establish the requisite elements of their claims against the Marijuana Growers here.”
Excuse me for thinking, but if simply alleging that there is a noxious odor from some marijuana plants is all that is necessary “to plausibly establish the requisite elements of their claims against the Marijuana Growers” then I don’t see who wouldn’t have a claim or injury with which to file a RICO claim.
It should be noted that the 10th Circuit Court did nix the lawsuit filed by the states of Nebraska and Oklahoma invoking the Controlled Substances Act to overturn Colorado’s voter initiative that legalized and regulated the adult use of marijuana. Don’t get giddy over the ruling though as the court ruled not that the CSA did not apply but rather that the issue could not be decided by the court as only the US Supreme Court has jurisdiction to hear disputes between the states.
The court’s protestations notwithstanding and the ink barely dry on the ruling, ambulance chasing lawyers have swiftly moved down the court’s newly opened Interstate Highway of RICO claims all the way to Oregon where a RICO lawsuit has been filed against not just the growers but against 42 other defendants including financial advisers, real estate companies and the Bank of America.
In this RICO case, two Oregon landowners claim their property was devalued because a one-lane easement that runs across their property is now trafficked by people who litter nearby properties, play loud music, ride noisy ATVs and harass landowners.
Along with the skunk-like odors emanating from the marijuana grows and the constant barking of their guard dogs, the aggrieved landowners claim that the value of their property has been significantly reduced.
Although the amount of damages is not specified, under RICO the landowners are entitled to compensation equal to three times the amount of the alleged damages whatever they may turn out to be.
To see the lawsuit filed by the Oregon landowners CLICK HERE.
Make no mistake – there is lots and lots of money to be made filing RICO lawsuits against marijuana cultivators and producers. Along with the now ubiquitous ads for Mesothelioma and adverse drug reactions, it won’t be long before you will see ambulance chasing lawyers running ads on television seeking people harmed by the sales of marijuana by a dispensary next door or by their marijuana cultivating neighbors.
It is no surprise to find that anti-marijuana and pro-drug war groups are behind these legal shenanigans to overturn the votes of the people to legalize marijuana and wind down the War on Drugs. In the case of the newfound interest in using RICO to upend marijuana legalization, it is a relatively unknown but well financed group called the Safe Streets Alliance that is the principle instigator.
A Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization, the Safe Streets Alliance is a secretive association whose funders include police, drug-rehab professionals, for-profit prison owners and other groups and individuals with a financial stake in keeping marijuana illegal.
Safe Streets Alliance’s proclaimed mission is to reduce youth drug use and violent crime and they exhibit no shame using children as a shield in their attack on marijuana legalization laws.
In a statement issued on the filing of their lawsuits, the group stated that "Safe Streets is asking the federal courts to order Colorado officials to comply with federal law and stop issuing state licenses to deal illegal drugs.” Utilizing RICO, they solicit individuals willing to claim that they, their properties or the businesses have been injured by marijuana businesses and telling them they have a right to an injunction, treble damages and not to worry about attorney fees.
“You might imagine, it’s not hard to find property owners in the state of Colorado who own property that is proximate to marijuana facilities and believe they’ve been injured,” said Brian Barnes, an attorney with Cooper & Kirk, the Washington, D.C., law firm representing Safe Streets Alliance. “We’re putting a bounty on the heads of anyone doing business with the marijuana industry.”
Christian Sederberg, a Denver attorney whose practice centers on marijuana law told the Denver Post “It’s critical that the people of Colorado know that there are out-of-state legal interests and policymakers who are essentially and entirely backing these cases.” To read the Denver Post excellent expose of these people and their methodology CLICK HERE.
If banks refused to provide banking services to marijuana businesses because they are skittish over banking regulations, imagine how banks and every other business will react when they realize they might be liable under RICO from lawsuits filed by ambulance chasing lawyers seeking treble damages from their deep pockets for their involvement in an “illegal” criminal enterprise.
Whether it is the threat from RICO, Trump or local police, those who want to profit from marijuana along with those who want to have safe, reliable, local and affordable access to marijuana are under a well-financed attack determined to undo the hard won advances that have been made. With the potential to even drag into court elected officials who are complicit in allowing marijuana distribution by issuing licenses and collecting taxes, police and their drug war allies are developing an effective strategy for a return to reefer madness.
If we are to moderate, repeal and neuter War on Drug era laws like RICO, Controlled Substances Act and asset-forfeiture so that they can no longer be used to imprison and bankrupt marijuana providers, we better start getting involved politically with our time and our money. We need to elect officials who will repeal and replace these odious laws and appoint judges who will properly interpret them.
If we don’t, RICO will proceed down the newly opened interstate highway jammed with rush hour ambulance chasing lawyers. Anyone involved in the marijuana industry is now a potential target.
MINI MARIJUANA FESTIVAL
is MAXI FUN
If you missed the High Times and other major cannabis festivals or if you want to experience them again just on a slightly smaller scale, then you have the opportunity right here in San Bernardino at the Emergency Room beginning Saturday, July 1 and every Saturday thereafter.
Held at the Arrowhead Elks Lodge (yes the ELKS Lodge) at 1073 North Mount Vernon Avenue, San Bernardino, CA 92411 the event runs from 1 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. There is no charge for entering the non-medicated area and a $10 entry charge to enter the VIP area. Entry is free for veterans, SSI and disabilitys.
Hosted by Elmo Green of KCAA’s Cannabis Corner program, the event offers a relaxing experience with a lounge atmosphere, entertainers, speakers and vendors offering an eclectic array of buds, edibles, concentrates and other quality cannabis products all at farmer market prices. More info can be obtained by sending an email to: [email protected]
JULY MAPP MEETINGS
FOCUS ON COMMERCIAL CANNABIS CONFERENCE
and GETTING LOCAL GOVERNMENTS TO ALLOW
MJ DISTRIBUTION AND PRODUCTION
With the January 1 deadline not much more than six months away, commercial cannabis operations in California are lining up for an expected haul of over $7 billion in 2018. RICO lawsuits, Donald Trump and intransigent city councils and county boards notwithstanding, the state agencies charged with implementing California’s commercial cannabis regulations are moving full-steam ahead.
Lori Ajax, the chief of the state’s Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation for California, who is in charge of coordinating California’s efforts to oversee the cannabis industry has stated “We all know what we have to get done and failure is not an option for us.”
Ms. Ajax and representatives of the two other marijuana regulating agencies, the California Dept. of Food and Agriculture and the California Dept. of Public Health will be making presentations and answering questions this Friday, June 30 in Los Angeles. They will be covering a broad range of issues concerning the regulations being promulgated and how the industry will operate and make marijuana and associated products available to all those who are legally allowed to obtain them which are adults 21 years of age and older and medical marijuana patients regardless of age.
The Commercial Cannabis Conference is being sponsored by Assemblyman Jones-Sawyer and everyone is invited to attend. For location, time and other information CLICK HERE.
If you cannot attend, I and others who are attending the conference with me will be at all three MAPP meetings providing the information that was presented along with materials and informational brochures that was distributed at the meeting.
In addition to the information from the Commercial Cannabis Conference, we will also be discussing a new program to kick start local efforts to convince local city councils and county boards to stop banning commercial marijuana cultivation and distribution and to enact ordinances to allow implementation of the far-reaching range of programs and licenses provided for under both Prop. 64 and Prop. 215.
Join friends, patients, consumers and activists at any of the MAPP meetings below.
Saturday, July 1 at 12 noon - Palm Springs/Coachella Valley meeting – Crystal Fantasy, 268 N. Palm Canyon Dr., downtown Palm Springs 92262.
Saturday, July 1 at 3 p.m. - Joshua Tree/Morongo Valley meeting – Beatnik Lounge, 61597 Twenty-Nine Palms Hwy., Joshua Tree 92252.
Wednesday, July 5 at 7:30 p.m. – Moreno Valley/Western IE MAPP meeting - Greenview Medical, 22275 Alessandro Blvd, Moreno Valley, CA 92553
Cookies, milk, camaraderie and networking available at all three meetings. You should be too.
GANJA GOES TO
The newest episode of Marijuana Compassion and Common Sense explores this issue with Robert Mikos, one of the nation’s leading experts on federalism and drug law. His soon-to-be published and first of its kind law school textbook Marijuana Law, Policy, and Authority is written to be accessible to a broad audience -- not just lawyers and law students.
On the show, Mr. Mikos discusses his new book, how marijuana law made it to law school, how it differs from other product laws, discusses the evolution of marijuana law, how big the field is expected to become and how other attorneys and his peers view marijuana law as a legitimate legal field.
Marijuana law may be obtuse, complex and at times seem even absurd, but after listening to Mr. Mikos, it begins to come together in a reasoned and rational way. To hear the interview with Mr. Mikos, CLICK HERE or go to www.blogtalkradio.com/marijuananews anytime that it is convenient to hear.
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